Major flood would hit Los Angeles Black communities disproportionately hard, study finds
When you add up all of the damages to infrastructure and human life that can happen in a major hurricane, a major flood or other disaster, Los Angeles’ flood defenses only begin to look like a rounding error.
A new study out by UCLA environmental law professor Peter Smerdon and his UCLA colleague, Jennifer Lewis, has some disturbing results. It shows that the flooding and storm damage that comes with a major flood will be disproportionately caused by a neighborhood’s race or ethnicity, while a major storm will disproportionately hit white neighborhoods, but when those two neighborhoods are located within the same city that race or ethnicity really doesn’t matter. “This is something that no one who has an economic interest or power has ever asked about,” Smerdon says. “It’s one of the most basic and interesting questions. But somehow we’re talking past each other. It’s obvious.”
The study, “The Nature of Disparate Impact: The Economic Impacts of Major Floods,” is a follow-up to “Disparate Impact: How Race Does and Does Not Matter in California’s Flooding,” which was published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy in 2011. The earlier paper looked at how race and ethnicity affected flooding, and how flood mitigation funds were allocated. The more recent study examined how race and ethnicity did and didn’t factor into flooding, but it also included a look at storm damages. The problem with those studies was that they only looked at two regions of California, which isn’t a very large land mass. “You can’t just pick two cities, one in the South and one in the North, and say everything is OK,” says Smerdon. “The answer is that not everything is OK.”
“If we were just looking at Los Angeles, where there are a lot of low-income and minority residents, many of whom live in the low-lying coastal area, we’d expect to find that the flood mitigation programs worked,” says Smerdon.
Instead, the findings were that Los Angeles was particularly vulnerable to major rainstorms, but that a major flood would not hit minority neighborhoods more than white neighborhoods.
A single study doesn’t make an overall judgment about race and ethnicity. It’s hard enough to get access to housing when it comes to a flood or to buy new homes when disaster strikes